Uruguayan writer-director Lucía Garibaldi’s The Sharks depicts the uneasy maturation of 14-year-old Rosina (Romina Bentacur). The livelihood of her indigent family and beach resort town is threatened by the rumoured presence of sharks. Rosina’s community is rattled by the news since their income depends on tourists, but she is fascinated by the dangerous predators, sharing a kinship with the giant beasts in her own destructive nature and violent past. We learn that she damaged her sister’s (Antonella Aquistapache) eye, causing her to wear a bandage over it. Whether this incident was out of jealousy or insecurity because Mariana is older and more experienced with boys, the film does not exactly make clear. Rosina finds herself caught in the middle of adolescence, not a girl but not yet a woman; she is torn between her burgeoning sexuality and juvenile play with her little brother.
Rosina fills her lacklustre summer days by working at her father’s landscaping company where she meets the older Joselo. She cannot make sense of her growing feelings for him, whether they are sexual or platonic, but she nonetheless develops a voyeuristic fascination with him. During one scene, he masturbates in front of her and asks her to touch herself, but she only stares blankly, taking in the strange, erotic moment. Joselo soon loses interest with Rosina and turns towards older girls less confused by their sexuality, causing her to seek revenge by ruthlessly stealing and hiding his pregnant dog and damaging his boat.
Garibaldi’s visuals keep us focused very tightly on Rosina, often during group conversations where she feels left out. These close-ups and POV shots are very silent and still, capturing her introversion and deep isolation. Bentancur has a dark edge to her performance that conveys Rosina’s discomfort, but for all the intimacy she and Garibaldi illustrate, there is little to no emotional connection to her character. Garibaldi neglects to explore Rosina’s unsettled teenage journey in much depth, offering few layers to her characterisation.
The Sharks is a very plodding coming-of-age story. The slow pace and sense of nothingness is meant to express her dull, restless summer, but we care so little for Rosina that it just ends up being a frustrating watch. There are intriguing aspects of the film, such as the unique environment of a working-class seaside town and a family struggling to make ends meet, as well as the Uruguayan filming locations of rocky coastlines and wooded forests. Garibaldi has a kernel of a good story here, but she neglects to explore the inner life of her female protagonist in any meaningful way. Rosina ends up being just as cold-blooded and mysterious as the sharks that circle her shore. While there are no shortage of aloof, unpleasant characters in cinema, The Sharks fails to give any insight into her motivations, thoughts, or even much of her personality, leaving an empty shell of a person that gives the viewer little reason to care.
What could have been an engrossing narrative about a young woman’s uncertain navigation of her newfound sexuality ends up being tiresome and vague. Garibaldi’s shot composition is lovely, and she has an excellent handle on visually conveying a character’s loneliness, but she fails to produce an affecting psychological relationship with her lead character. The Sharks is dull, seeming to move in circles like the creatures of its title, endlessly going nowhere.
The Sharks is available for rent on VOD now and DVD on April 28th
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.